Friday Film : Music biopics. Whose life next?

By Rehna

Bohemian Rhapsody (about the band Queen) was a huge hit of superhero proportions . It is the highest grossing music biopic ever. From Queen to the King, currently Elvis the movie is packing them in, with people saying they’ve seen the film from between 5-30 times at the cinema. There’s awards buzz for the electrifying performance by Austin Butler, in the lead role. Previously, Rocketman (about Elton John) also did well. So, the combination of music and the life-story of an icon can be a winning formula.

Since Hollywood never saw a bandwagon it didn’t jump on, will it now green-light every biopic of anyone who ever picked up so much as a recorder and had a chart hit with it? I expect so.
A Prince biopic can’t be far off. A Michael Jackson one must be in the works. A George Michael film can’t be far off (what an epic sing-along that will be!) A Chris Cornell film, about the frontman of Soundgarden and Audioslave would make for a searing look at the Seattle grunge scene of the 90s (including a strong female role for his former wife Susan Silver, a pioneering female in the macho world of rock managers). Madonna is preparing to direct her own biopic and big names are being touted For the Bee Gees story, what an incredible one that is.

So here are a few legends who should get the big screen treatment:

David Bowie

Few musicians have been dissected in books and documentaries as much as the original starman himself. the man who fell to earth. However, his many and various personas have not yet been captured in a biopic. Many ideas and scripts were pitched to him while he was alive, including from life-long Bowie fan Danny Boyle but, as a with a knighthood, Bowie turned them down. While Velvet Goldmine is said to be based on his career it’s not an authorised account. It’s inevitable that an official biopic will be made, if not several. The question is which Bowie would the film go with? There are so many versions of his extraordinary life, persona and career. Hardcore fans would probably want the film to focus on the Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane era. The general public would likely go for the blond, sharp suit wearing Let’s Dance era Bowie but with all the previous hits thrown in too. As with Michael Jackson, Madonna and other larger than life popstars, the issue of who would take on the gargantuan task of playing Bowie will probably melt the internet when it arises. Bowie fans are fiercely protective of their hero and will have strong views. Michael Fassbender and Eddie Redmayne were briefly mentioned after Bowie’s death but let’s see.

Fleetwood Mac

Two couples in a band. Their respective relationships implode at around the same time as does the marriage of the 5th member. They write biting songs about each other during this turbulent phase and produce one of the greatest and best- selling albums of all time. Behind the scenes there are love affairs both within and outside the band, enough drug taking to blow a small country away and more biting songs that become the soundtrack of a generation.

(And that’s just one incarnation of what Rolling Stone magazine called the lovingest, fightingest, druggingest band from the 70’s. Before the megastar Rumours line-up the band had 3 lead guitarists who respectively had an emotional breakdown, went off with a religious cult and had problems with alcohol and sleeping with a bandmate’s wife).

However, it’s the Rumours line-up that had the big hits and the Rockstar lifestyles. Since biopics work best with a tempestuous love-story, I’d pitch the Fleetwood Mac story through the prism of the relationship between singer Stevie Nicks and singer/guitarist Lindsey Buckingham. Two photogenic, highly strung individuals. Teenage sweethearts, full of ambition. They hit the big time and the relationship unravels…..but over a period of 43 years!

The couple officially split in the late 70s but admitted 20 years later when the band reformed that they were still ‘resolving issues’ from the breakup! Even though Nicks had affairs with many other rock-stars and Buckingham married and had 3 children with another woman, recently when Fleetwood Mac fired Buckingham from the group, Nicks described it as a ‘divorce’after 43 years! The songs each wrote about the other during these fiery years of breakups and makeups are to die for.

Led Zeppelin

A couple of a different kind would be Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin. The band who invented sex, drugs and rock and roll would make for an awesome biopic and there’s no way they could sugarcoat it. Even though their heyday was well before most current movie executives were even born, their musical prowess and hedonistic antics are the stuff of urban legend. The film would be a riot and likely a huge success as the band has a large and loyal following despite having disbanded decades ago. In Page and Plant two actors would have the roles of a lifetime.

Jeff Buckley

Although he didn’t live long enough to become a superstar like the others mentioned, Buckley’s short life has fascinated Hollywood since his death in 1997. None other than Brad Pitt admitted to being ‘obsessed’ with him and desperately wanted to both produce a film about him and play the lead. There have been other abortive attempts too.

For those who don’t know of him, Buckley is best known for his cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. It’s widely regarded as one of the best, if not the best cover song of all time. Buckley only made one studio album, Grace, but still features in lists of the greatest vocalists of all time. He and Grace were lauded by the likes of Page and Plant, McCartney, Dylan, Bowie, Bono and he has inspired everyone from Radiohead to Adele and Justin Timberlake. As a character study of genius, inner turbulence, hip New York life and a dramatic, tragic ending to a young life (he drowned in the Mississipi river) his story has all the elements and he was gorgeous to boot! Currently there are rumours that Timothee Chalamet may play him in a proposed biopic.